Tributes have poured in for a champion Irish athlete who sustained serious head injuries in a freak fall just hours after celebrating winning a bronze medal at the FISU World University Rowing Championships, in Poznan, Poland.
Ailish Sheehan, aged 23, from Kildimo, Co Limerick, fell on a footpath on Sunday.
Hours earlier, Ms Sheehan and teammates Rebecca Edwards, Annie Withers, and Gillian Cooper, crossed the finish line to take bronze for Team Great Britain.
Ms Sheehan’s family, including parents John and Catherine and sisters Niamh and Áine, are keeping a vigil at her hospital bedside.
“Ailish is in a critical condition,” a family spokesperson said. “She will need more tests Wednesday and Thursday.”
Ms Sheehan, a former member of St Michael’s Rowing Club, Limerick, was rushed to hospital following the incident and placed on a life support machine.
Her father John, a former Cork minor hurler who previously trained the Limerick senior hurling team, is a coach with Kildimo GAA Club and a PE teacher at St Clements school, Limerick.
His brother, Jim, was left paralysed following a crash about 20 years ago which also claimed the life of his wife — Catherine’s sister.
Prior to concentrating on rowing, Ms Sheehan had established herself as one of the leading javelin throwers in Ireland, and represented her country at International Schools level, and later at the Celtic Games in Scotland. In 2011, Ms Sheehan, who trained with Dooneen AC, accepted an athletic scholarship to Notre Dame, one of the leading universities in the US . She has also rowed for Ireland at youth level.
Ms Sheehan proudly followed her father into sport. Mr Sheehan, a native of Bandon, was regarded as an outstanding hurler and played minor with Cork in the mid 1970s. He also played with St Mary’s in London, before completing post-graduate studies in Springfield College, Massachusetts in the early 1980s.
John and Catherine lived for many years in Bruff, Co Limerick, where they reared their three daughters.
A prayer service was held in the town’s park yesterday for Ms Sheehan’s recovery. A neighbour paid a glowing tribute to Ms Sheehan, describing her as a “full of life”.
“I just can’t come to terms with it,” said the neighbour. “We had a little prayer meditation service at 12pm today.
It’s just heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking. She is always full of life and full of go and full of craic. She is a live wire, full of fun. She is always very competitive... She had to be to get on the rowing team and to win her bronze medal.
“She won the bronze medal in the world championships on Sunday. John, Catherine, Áine, and [Ailish], had dinner out that night, and then after dinner she went off to celebrate with her friends. On the way back to where the athletes were staying, she had a fall.
“It’s horrendous for the family and they are such a gorgeous family. They don’t deserve any of this.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved